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RMAF 2019 Show Report -- Rocky Mountain International Audio Fest 2019

RMAF 2019 Show Report Part 1
Show Report By Rick Becker


Thursday: Press Day
First off, I'd like to welcome the readers who have skipped the first 800 words of this journey in search of their audiophile fix of photos and prices. But first a word about the venue:

She said what's it gonna take for you to lay your top on down?
I said honey why don't you ask me when we get to the outskirts of town.
— ZZ Top

How about $29/day for parking on macadam out in the middle of open range? (Although I've read elsewhere that they raised gate at the end of the day.) By next year I presume they will have a herd of grazing buffalo for ambiance to supplement their cast bronze horses. Ron Nagle, whose photos of the show appear here under his own name also, split a room at less than half the price of the Gaylord about a five minute drive away. We walked in shortly after 10 am.



Hello. Is anyone home?



We passed a room with automobiles equipped with high-end audio systems and rental carts for getting around inside the Gaylord. Did I say this place was huge? At one point later in the show I spotted a kid zooming through the crowd on an electric scooter at a speed that was faster than I could draw my camera.



Picking up our Press Badges would have been a breeze, except for the one person ahead of me who hadn't pre-registered. There is at least one at every show.



The next set of doors open to the long foyer revealed a handful of high-end cruisers equipped with high-end audio systems. Note the upward facing coaxial driver near the front wheel of the Black Beauty and the blue LED lights accenting the floor below it. This seems like an arena ripe for Bluetooth and helmets custom fitted with headphone drivers. Anybody listening? Maybe somebody already has them, but being Old Skool, I prefer to listen to the music of the motor. Unfortunately, nobody could tell me how many microfarads could be stored in each of the saddlebags.



Ron and I decided to hang together as we casually explored the layout of the show. Many, if not most of the rooms were still being set up and dialed in. Going up one level to Level 3 in the Convention Center we heard music coming from Homestead 3, one of four nearly cubical rooms hosted by heavy hitters in the industry. CH Precision electronics from Switzerland were powering the very same Gobel High End Divin Noblesse speakers ($220k) from Germany that sounded much better at AXPONA when oriented on the short wall of a more rectangular room with a lower ceiling. Here, the speakers were pulled out away from the wall behind them, creating a boomy sound in spite of the very fine gear in this rig. With these speakers being so heavy (~575 lbs. each), it was probably too difficult to move them around to make adjustments during the show.



The front end here was the Kronos Pro turntable ($42k) equipped with their Black Beauty unipivot tonearm ($9500) and SCPS power supply ($15k) with Louis Desjardins in control. This is a lot of money for a turntable, but at this exalted performance level you can pay many times this price. Louis tells me he is getting close to completing an improved power supply for the less expensive Kronos Sparta version (reviewed here) of his counter-rotating platter design. With the new power supply, he claims the Sparta will be very close to the original Kronos turntable before he upgraded the power supply to his flagship model. The entry level Sparta 0.5 sells slowly, with most of the customers upgrading to the full Sparta as soon as they can afford the difference. Louis has figured out a way to disengage the counter-rotating lower platter of the flagship model to demonstrate the contribution of the lower platter. Once you've heard the comparison, you can't go back to a single platter table — unless it is completely out of your price range.

There is nothing else I've heard at shows that can do what this table does. Louis also pulled out a different LP than the "LA Woman" LP by the Doors that demonstrated much of the distortion I was hearing was actually on the recording, not coming from the system itself. That's what a world class turntable and a $15k cartridge will do for you. In case you're wondering, the shelves of the Core Audio equipment rack ($3500) used here were comprised of 35 layers of compressed wood for serious isolation.

I revisited the room on the last day of the show and was able to appreciate the excellence of the music in spite of the room reverberation. Note the vents on the four corners of the upper and lower woofers to equalize the back pressure on these drivers. There is a lot of technology and excellence of manufacturing in these speakers. Not to slight the sound quality heard here with the CH Precision solid state M 1.1 power amp ($54k), I wondered what the Gobel would sound like driven by a good SET amp. Given their 95dB/W/m sensitivity (and in spite of their 4 Ohm impedance) it would certainly have to be in a much smaller room.

They have another series of speakers designed for smaller rooms, but alas, the price league doesn't change much according to Oliver Gobel, owner of the company. It was a pleasure to chat with him again here at RMAF. He has been very approachable and friendly on both occasions. Check out their website for info on the Bending Wave technology used in their primary drivers and the website of Bending Wave USA who imports both Gobel and CH Precision products.




Next door in a similarly shaped room, but divvied up with walls of curtains to separate out static displays of other products, I had a first listen to the once again revised PS Audio AN3 speaker that I had heard at AXPONA in the spring. A lot has changed since then. New drivers, revised wood side panels without the wood bars covering the woofers (as I predicted) and the cabinet has been bifurcated to enable shipping each speaker in three UPS-able boxes — an important consideration given they are moving to a direct sale only approach in the USA so no dealer auditions will be available. The wood side panels will attach to the upper and lower chassis modules once the speaker has been positioned. They sounded considerably better at RMAF than the version I heard at AXPONA. I'll venture to say they could be improved even further with more tweaking before they are scheduled to be released in early 2020.



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